Honorable Prime Ministers
Executive Director and members of the Regional Security System
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Ladies and Gentlemen
Permit me to extend a warm Barbadian welcome to all of you at this annual Meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Regional Security System. I do so, of course, in my capacity as Chairman of the Regional Security System.
Our meeting is taking place in a very difficult period of the world???s economic environment, at a time at which it has been confirmed that we are experiencing the worst economic downturn of the modern era, and we in the Caribbean have not been able to escape. We have been forced to meet head-on the challenges of reducing expenditures, stabilising economies, and generating growth. Some of our member states have also had to face loss and significant structural damage during the inclement weather in December last year. The increase in earth tremors throughout the sub-region in recent times has also been a cause of serious concern.
I must therefore commend Member States for the unwavering support rendered during the past year in ensuring the continued existence of the RSS. I thank also the Executive Director and staff of the RSS for their efforts in keeping the RSS ship afloat despite many challenges, including, of course, that of diminishing resources. We, of course, owe a debt of gratitude to our international partners, the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, the European Union, and the agencies which provided valuable support over the past year.
Against the background of the economic challenges currently being faced, some members of our citizenry may, with justification ask, why not reduce or eliminate subscriptions to the Regional Security System. That???s a fair question and one that we must be able to answer.
National security is an inescapable responsibility of the modern state. The primary security objective of all Member States is and must be the establishment and maintenance of a peaceful, safe, secure and stable environment that is conducive to social harmony and national development. Were we unable at the national and subregional levels to attain this objective, the result would be unsafe, insecure and destabilised environments for our people, and such environments would consequently become unattractive and unwelcoming to visitors and investors from other lands. So we cannot afford to fail in our efforts to keep our island states safe, secure, stable and peaceful.
When the RSS was conceived and established thirty-three years ago, in a period of East-West political tension, which in some cases resulted in political instability in the region, few questioned the rationale for its establishment. We had to have in place a mechanism that guaranteed a swift response to threats to our societal fabric, which were among the major challenges to our security at that time.
Today we still need such a mechanism, for while the threats to security flowing from the past days of political instability fuelled by East-West rivalry appear to have been quelled, the configuration of world politics of course having undergone some fundamental change, many of the old threats have been replaced by new ones.
Trafficking in illegal narcotics and firearms, money laundering, trafficking in human beings, cyber-crime and the criminal activity associated with these phenomena are now considered to constitute the greatest threats to security in our region, and indeed the wider Caribbean, as was recently confirmed by the CANSEC Conference in Santo Domingo.
The criminally minded are sharing information rapidly, and have developed a capacity to move relatively freely across borders. Recent instances of theft from ATMs allegedly perpetrated by visitors from very distant lands are an example. Our law enforcement and security forces must be prepared to mount a resolute and enduring defence against such threats to our collective safety, stability, way of life and well-being. Our region cannot allow crime, violence and the violation of our porous borders by drug traffickers to prevail and to win today. To effectively counter these threats, the region must have personnel, in our various border control and law enforcement agencies, sufficiently knowledgeable and skilled in the principles of the required counter-measures, and that are able, equipped, and enthused to carry out the necessary tasks. Training is thus a key priority.
The RSS is a unique regional organisation conceived, established and developed by our own people. There is no other organisation in the region with the capabilities and services that the RSS can provide, including a commitment to having boots on the ground in short order when the need arises in any one of our Member States.
The RSS has a major role to play in the provision of advice on security and in the provision of training. Its Corporate Plan 2010-2020 sets out as its Principal Strategic Priority, to ???Expand the role of the RSS to include advice on areas of national security and training within the areas of Customs, Immigration, Maritime, Defence and general law enforcement.???
In this regard, we must applaud both the foresight of the previous directorship of the RSS in building management capacity in, and for, the service of its stakeholders, and the commitment of the current directorship to the continuation of this vision, through the establishment of the RSS Training Institute at RSS HQ.
The RSS Training Institute is intended to set in place a systematic process for training and certification of law enforcement personnel. In the past two years, and more particularly in the past year, training coordinated and conducted by the Institute has expanded at an astounding rate, and the prospect of continued RSS organised training for our Member Forces appears to be promising. Among present initiatives is that of having credits granted by tertiary institutions in the region for courses of study by qualified graduates of the Institute???s programmes.
Now we could not have done this without the consultation, the cooperation and the financial assistance of our Partner Nations. The Governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, USA, France and the European Union are to be commended for their contribution to the RSS ability to provide such training. Of course we hope they will continue in that vein.
The Institute???s remit also extends to the development of training manuals, instructor manuals and standard operating procedures for all courses, to ensure the standardisation of course delivery and materials throughout the RSS region, and to prepare service personnel to become top-class officers, managers and leaders in our various institutions.
In addition, consistent with the mandate set out at Article 4 of the RSS Treaty, the RSS Air Wing and the Coast Guards and Police Marine Units of our Member States continue to work together to intercept illegal traffickers, protect our maritime space, and conduct search and rescue and humanitarian response missions. Again, I commend the governments of the United States and Canada for their generous financial contributions towards the refurbishment and upgrading of our aircraft, which will significantly enhance the capabilities of the aircraft and enable a greater level of mission efficiency.
The scope and usefulness of the RSS Air Wing goes far beyond the mere identification of vessels laden with illegal drugs at sea. Indeed, limited financial resources and equipment available impedes the air wing from realising its full potential, and limits the RSS Headquarters in the exercise of its full mandate as set out in the Treaty with respect to the protection of our Exclusive Economic Zones. I am convinced, nonetheless, that the air wing is performing admirably in the circumstances.
One of the matters that will engage our attention today is whether, and in what ways, the OECS Authority can engage the RSS in matters related to security. We must, of course, address the effect of the challenging operating financial and economic environment on the budgetary support required for RSS operations. But let there be no doubt that Member States of the RSS are unequivocally committed to the continued existence of the RSS and the urgent need to examine ways to ensure its sustainability and its viability. The evidence of its effectiveness and usefulness in there for all to see and the needs of the future require the continued services of the RSS at the levels and standards necessary for the provision of this vital service. It is an organisation that we in this region cannot afford to be without.
So in conclusion, let me welcome my colleague Prime Ministers and Ministers representing the RSS member countries, and their senior officials, as well as members of the diplomatic corps, members of our valued strategic partners. We have a full day ahead of us and we must make the best use of the presence of key decision makers, strategists and partners here today, buttressed, of course, by the reliable and trustworthy support and advice of the Executive Director and staff of the Regional Security System.??Once again welcome and thank you very much.